In a powerful victory for health, the environment and citizen activism, the general assembly of the state of Maryland has voted to ban the polluting energy practice known as fracking. Republican Governor Larry Hogan has promised to sign the legislative ban into law. “The possible environmental risks of fracking simply outweigh any potential benefits,” Hogan said. “Protecting our clean water supply and our natural resources is critically important to Marylanders; we simply cannot allow the door to be opened for fracking in our state.”
Maryland joins New York State, Vermont and a host of cities and counties across the U.S. in saying “no” to fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is a dangerous process that pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at very high pressure into petroleum-laden shale deposits far below ground. Pummeling the shale forces it to release the gas or oil it contains. But along with those fossil fuels come filthy waste water and cancer-causing by-products that endanger human health. Johns Hopkins University researchers have found that expectant mothers living near heavy fracking in Pennsylvania are significantly more likely to experience a high-risk pregnancy or give birth prematurely. People living near fracking operations are also 1.5 to 4 times likelier to suffer asthma attacks.
Cancer rates may increase in fracking zones (Tweet this), too. Says Don’t Frack Maryland, the non-profit that’s helped compile scientific research on the threats fracking poses, “Many of the chemicals used are known to have carcinogenic, neurotoxic, or endocrine-disrupting effects.”
Drilling and fracking have also contaminated drinking water. In this famous scene from the documentary “Gasland,” the water coming out of someone’s kitchen faucet actually catches fire because it is tainted with so much methane, a fracking by-product.
Plus, states that have never been known for earthquakes, like Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, have seen a startling increase in earthquakes as fracking operations there increase. As Lisa Sharp reported here for Moms Clean Air Force, serious earthquakes in Oklahoma have gone from an average one and a half per year to two and a half each day.
Said Maryland Senator Robert “Bobby” Zirkin of Baltimore County, “There is no safe way to do fracking in this state. That technology does not exist. With the mountain of research growing every day about the dangers of fracking there is simply no regulatory way to protect our citizens from the dangers of this technology.”
Food and Water Watch, another non-profit working to protect states and people from water pollution, attributed Maryland’s success in banning fracking to a years-long grassroots organizing campaign that began in 2012. At the time the campaign launched, only a “small handful” of advocacy groups and activists were calling for a complete ban. But the group organized:
- in key political districts around the state
- educated elected officials and citizens
- built coalitions with public health advocates and community groups
- held dozens of meetings, rallies and action
- delivered 35,000 petitions and letters to lawmakers
- got actor John Astin, a Maryland native and former star of TV’s “Addams Family,” to record a radio ad urging people to contact their state representatives and senators
The coalition also began to get fracking banned county by county. The next step was passage of a two-year long state-wide moratorium that gave activists more time to organize across the state and lay the groundwork for the ultimate victory: a permanent ban. As the movement grew to include thousands of people and more than 170 organizations, it “set us up to win big at the state level,” says Food and Water Watch.
Interesting to note: Originally, Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley favored fracking in the state, releasing regulations in 2014 that would have eased the way for fracking to get started. Barely three years later, Republicans and Democrats, led by a Republican governor, said “No,” proving once again that when it comes to clean drinking water and human health, you can do the right thing no matter what party you belong to.
So, if you’re fighting fracking in your community, or tackling another seemingly impossible environmental challenge, take heart from what just happened in Maryland.